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Oddly beautiful things said in today’s meeting between South and North Korea

North Korea's chief delegate Ri Son-gwon (L) talks with South Korean Unification Minister and chief delegate Cho Myoung-gyon (R) during their meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea, 09 January 2018. The meeting is meant to discuss Pyongyang's possible participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February and ways to improve their long-stalled ties.
Ri Son-gwon shows his soft side.
By Steve Mollman
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The meetings between North Korea and South Korea today (Jan. 9) were remarkable in a number of ways, most notably that they were the first high-level talks between the nations in more than two years. North Korea offered to send a delegation of athletes, officials, and cultural performers to next month’s Winter Olympics, to be hosted by South Korea. It even proposed sending cheerleaders.

Also notable was the flowery language deployed by both sides. The North’s Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the state agency in charge of affairs with the South, seemed intent on countering a reputation for having a fiery temper. He offered these words among others (video in Korean):

“This winter, we had an unusual amount of snow and it has been so cold that rivers and mountains are frozen. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that inter-Korean relations have been frozen more than the cold weather. However, regardless of how cold it is, the people’s hope for the improvement of the relations between the North and the South is like the water flowing under the frozen rivers.”

Not to be outdone, Cho Myoung-gyon, South Korea’s unification minister and chief negotiator, offered:

“There is a saying, ‘Well begun is half done.’ Even though this meeting has begun after a long disconnection between the two Koreas, I hope we hold the talks with determination and persistence.”

Ri told Cho, “I’ve heard you were a skater when you were young. If we all return to the innocence of childhood, today’s meeting will go smoothly.”

The comment provoked some laughter. Cho then spoke of the high hopes of the Korean people, suggesting how both sides should proceed through the talks:

“I understand that people have high hopes for the South and the North’s reconciliation and peace. Keeping that in mind, I think we should be engaged in today’s meeting with an earnest and sincere manner.”

Whether such language will lead to a sustained lowering of tension on the Korean Peninsula—or be heard again if more difficult topics than the Olympics arise—is anyone’s guess. But for one day, at least, they made for a refreshing change of pace in a geopolitical hotspot that’s been stressing out much of the world.

Hailey Jo contributed reporting.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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